First Look: Venice's The Rose Café Is Still Finding Its Footing

The Rose Café in Venice
The Rose Café in Venice
Garrett Snyder

Here’s an observation so obvious it often goes unsaid: Opening a successful all-day restaurant in Venice is a damn difficult task.

The beachside neighborhood is home to the boutiques and design studios of Abbot Kinney that earned the title “The Coolest Block in America” from GQ in 2013, the regional headquarters of Google and other tech giants, and a sizable population of well-off Gen-X families. All of these groups want different things from the place where they get their morning coffee or afternoon salad or wine and pasta for dinner. If your aim is to please everyone, as is the goal of many restaurateurs, Venice is a tough place to do just that.

What does this have to do with the Rose Café, Jason Neroni and Bill Chait’s new restaurant?

A lot, actually. Much like Gjusta and Superba Food + Bread, two all-day eateries that generated strong reactions from locals, the Rose Café was met at its opening last month with no shortage of opinions about its impact on the neighborhood. The target affixed to its back was larger than most new businesses because it had replaced the old Rose Café, a quaint Bohemian hangout that had served the Venice area since 1979.

Of course, the best way to quiet rumblings of gentrification or overdevelopment might simply be to open an even better place. By teaming up with Jason Neroni (who opened the critically adored Superba Snack Bar a few blocks away and later departed), owner Bill Chait made the shrewd move to expand the small footprint of Neroni’s previous project into something much grander. Anchored near the intersection of Main Street and Rose Avenue, the new Rose Café feels less like a restaurant and more like a highly stylized food and drink emporium. Inside there’s an open kitchen with lots of wood-powered ovens, a marketplace with a deli case and baked-goods counter, a semi-hidden cocktail bar, a coffee bar, communal tables galore and two expansive patios on either side of the building.

As you’d expect, the sheer volume of the place has led to logistical growing pains. During the evening, hosts directed guests to sit wherever they wished, but on a more recent lunch visit a crowd gathered at the host station waiting to be seated. There also seemed to be a brief experimentation with an electronic pad system that allowed staff to deliver food without the use of table numbers, but it appeared that system had been shelved for the time being.

Lamb shawarma pizza at the Rose Café
Lamb shawarma pizza at the Rose Café
Garrett Snyder

But is the food good? At this point, the answer is mixed.  At lunch, the smoked bacon ramen with house-made ramen noodles is spicy and rich, and the lamb shawarma pizza is perked up with flame-shriveled cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of tzatziki sauce. The best bets probably are the dishes Neroni perfected while at Superba Snack Bar — smoked bucatini carbonara, roasted Brussels sprouts with dashi and the ever-popular cauliflower “T-bone” — although it does feel strange to eat this food a few streets over from the still-open restaurant where it became renowned.

The “hearth menu,” a short collection of oven-roasted dishes served at dinner, needs more polish. A rubbery round of porchetta tasted as if it had been brined too long, and an enticing spin on “crab and uni dynamite” arrived as a cast-iron pan of shredded crab adrift in oily hot sauce. The superb cocktails, especially the one balanced with tangy pineapple shrub and vermouth, were the evening’s saving grace.

All that said, it would be foolish to assume that a management team that involves two highly seasoned veterans won’t find a way to adjust and adapt. Given its scope and size, the Rose Café probably is going to require more time than usual to find its niche. The biggest question is whether Venice residents have the patience to find out.

220 Rose Avenue, Venice; (310) 399-0711, rosecafevenice.com

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